BREWER, Maine — As the first of 53 modules for an enormous Texas refinery expansion was loaded onto a barge Wednesday for a trip to the Gulf of Mexico, Cianbro and city officials reflected on the return of manufacturing to the Penobscot River.
“After years of not being fully utilized, the Penobscot River is once again connecting us to other parts of the country in terms of commerce,” City Manager Steve Bost said. “Not only did [Cianbro] create hundreds of new good-paying jobs, but also placed Brewer and this region on the map in terms of economic development and revitalization.”
Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp. chose the site of the shuttered Eastern Fine Paper Co. mill, which closed in January 2004, for its Eastern Manufacturing Facility because of its 41-acre riverfront locale.
Access to the river is needed to move the refinery modules, which can weigh up to 700 tons and are too big to travel on highways or by rail. Cianbro spent 10 months changing the abandoned, contaminated mill site into a module-producing facility and creating a bulkhead that could handle large seagoing barges such as the 94-foot-by-354-foot Columbia Boston docked at the site.
The first — and smallest — of four massive refinery modules was placed on the Columbia Boston on Wednesday. The second is scheduled to be loaded on Friday.
“This is just the beginning of some good things,” general manager Joe Cote said on Tuesday.
Cianbro was one of more than 50 companies nationwide that competed to build the modules for the Texas refinery expansion.
Despite the distance, the bitterly cold winter weather and threat of black bears, Motiva Enterprises LLC hired the Maine company because of Cianbro’s construction reputation, Mick Heim, project manager for Motiva, has said.
“[The] talented, dedicated work force that produce a quality product. I think that is what attracted them,” Cote said. “This is good for us and the State of Maine.”
And it’s good for the region and the city, Bost said.
“The new Eastern Manufacturing Facility has met and exceeded all of our expectations,” he said. “The Brewer facility is playing a major role in diversifying our state’s economy by exporting our talent and contributing to our nation’s energy future.”
The Eastern Manufacturing Facility, which began production in April 2008, employs more than 400 skilled laborers at the site making modules. A pipe fabrication facility in Bangor employs another 70. Those people live and spend money in the region, Bost said.
Eastern Manufacturing crews are building the catalytic-cracker-feed hydrotreater and hydrocracker units for the massive Motiva Port Arthur Refinery, which is in the middle of a $7 billion expansion.
The heavy-duty industrial steel frames filled with pipes, pumps and electronics that are being loaded onto the barge in Brewer are the first pieces to be shipped from four module manufacturing plants, three in the United States and one in Mexico.
The Texas refinery, which produces products for Shell Oil, will double in size once the expansion is complete in 2010 or 2011. It will be the largest crude oil processing plant in North America.
The first load of modules should ship out to Texas later this month. All 53 modules are scheduled to be completed and leave Brewer within the next 14 months.
Companies have already approached Cianbro about future contracts for modules after that, but no names have been released. With water access, the possibilities reach across the Atlantic Ocean and elsewhere around the globe, Cote said.